What type of Pilot license should I get?
If you are new to flying and you’re ready to commit some time and money to achieving your pilot’s licenses, then you should first determine which license will best suit your flying needs.
For the new pilot, there are three airman certificates you can obtain for fixed wing, single engine (not including a Student Pilot certificate); Recreational Pilot, Sport Pilot and Private Pilot. I’ll cover the basics and their privileges and limitations.
The Recreational Pilot certificate would be a good choice for the pilot that does not have a need to venture far or simply wants to be able to do local flights. The Recreational certificate allows the pilot to carry no more than one passenger and fly within 50 nautical miles of his/her airport. However, with the appropriate training and log book endorsement, that pilot may venture further than 50 nm from their home airport. Keep in mind that recreational pilots may not fly twin engines, aircraft with more than 180 hp, an aircraft certified for more than four occupants, with retractable landing gear, between sunset and sunrise, outside the US or more than 10,000 msl or 2, 000 agl whichever is higher. There are limitations on the recreational pilot that make it desirable for some but too limiting for others. A student must log at least 30 hours of flight time in order to obtain a recreational pilot certificate.
A sport pilot rating simply requires a minimum of 20 hrs of flight time making it an affordable option and a very attainable license. A sport pilot is able to fly a Light Sport Aircraft. They may fly in VFR (visual flight rules) weather, up to 10,000’ msl or 2,000’ agl, whichever is higher and in class E and G airspace. With proper training and endorsements they may fly in class B, C and D airspace. They are prohibited from flying in class A or outside the U.S. without permission. Like a recreational pilot, you may only carry one passenger but are limited to a two-seater aircraft. You are also limited to single engine operations.
The traditional private pilot license gives the most freedom for the small plane pilot. The private pilot may operate in both day and night VFR, obtain high altitude endorsements for operations requiring supplemental oxygen, add a high performance endorsement for aircraft with 200+ horse power as well as obtain ratings and endorsements for complex and multi-engine aircraft. Initially the private pilot needs to log a minimum of 40 hours in order to take a check ride so the cost is quite a bit more than a sport pilot license.
The private pilot may also add an instrument rating in order to fly IFR operations. This is a highly recommended rating as it not only allows one to fly in weather that would normally ground a VFR pilot, but it makes the pilot have a more safe flying experience. On top of that it’s fun to be able to communicate on the same frequencies as the airlines and brings the pilot experience to a whole new lever.
The bottom line is that depending on your long-term goal with flying, whether that is to simply fly locally for fun and scenery, fly a glamorous King Air across country or land in the backwoods grass strip to go fishing, you will not regret obtaining any of the mentioned pilot license. You can always start off with a recreational or sport pilot license and when funds and desires are in order, step up to the full, private pilot license. Just go fly.